Book 57 Chapter 4 - The Three Conditions
Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
Kou Zhong went to Liyang to see Du Fuwei and hurried back to Liangdu via the waterway. He wholeheartedly thought he could see Song Yuzhi, who would have thought that Xu Xingzhi, who came to meet him at the boat, told him that Song Yuzhi refused to come to Liangdu.
Frowning, Xu Xingzhi said, “Song San Ye [third master] did not explain anything about Yuzhi Xiaojie, I am afraid Shaoshuai would have to personally ask him before he would tell you straight.”
It was like a bucket of iced water was poured on Kou Zhong’s head, the fire of passion filling his heart was like extinguished smoke without any trace, he smiled bitterly and asked, “Any news about Ziling?”
Xu Xingzhi nodded in response.
The two men mounted their horses, with the personal guards heralding their presence at the front and escorting behind, they headed for the city gate.
Moored on the pier were nearly ten Shao Shuai Army’s naval boats, the flags were flying, under the rays of the setting sun, the construction battalion troops were constantly loading provisions and goods on board the ship, to be transported to Chenliu City’s front line.
One day Li Shimin was not the emperor yet, the Shao Shuai Army was still in a tense situation of full-scale war against the Great Tang Army.
Xu Xingzhi said, “Thank Heaven and thank the Earth! Yin Ye is finally reunited with his sister, this moment he is on his way back to Liangdu. Xu Ye is heading secretly to Luoyang to see Li Shimin alone. Did Shaoshuai’s trip this time bring good result?”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Not only Ol’ Die did not blame me, he also said that this is a sensible act, what’s so addictive to being an emperor anyway? Unless being a licentious, tyrannical muddleheaded ruler, being the emperor is definitely not easy. Not only one must follow the compass and go with the set square [idiom: following the rules inflexibly], to set some his Niang’s example, one would have to face endless official documents and correspondence every day, plus one would have to attend morning imperial court every day, to preside over big and small court discussions. His granny’s! It’s really not a human’s job. I am supporting the Li kid to the throne, it can be considered as a revenge!”
Xu Xingzhi blurted out laughing, “He really said that?” he asked.
Kou Zhong said, “The second half is just my thoughts. Ol’ Die’s sensible act refers to the fact that if Song Que does not participate, between Li Shimin and I, at whose hand will the deer die [idiom: who will emerge victorious] - is still cannot be foreseen. The best possibility is a confrontation between the North and the South, the constant fighting, which will give the Tujue small advantages, therefore, he supports our grand plan to facilitate the emperor.”
Xu Xingzhi said, “Guanzhong is completely under Li Yuan, Jiancheng and Yuanji’s formidable power’s control, plus we cannot raise our troops in a big way. Even if Fazhu is willing to nod, the road ahead is still full of difficulties.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “It should still be a bit easier than attacking the City of Luoyang with Li Kid defending it. Ah! I nearly forget to tell you, Zhi Shu and I talked about this, as long as he is bestowed the official position as a provincial governor or a unifying, subduing governance of a city, he will be perfectly contented.”
Xu Xingzhi cheerfully said, “In that case, Xingzhi will run the academy of classical learning in the city where he is the official, so that the scholars can study the holy books!”
Kou Zhong thought of Bai Lao Fuzi [see Book 1 Chapter 1], he said with joy, “Your academy should be free of charge, so that children of the poor family will have the opportunity to study.”
Xu Xingzhi revealed a look of longing for the future; immediately remembering something else, he said, “Ba Ye received the news that Bian Bufu appears in Lin Shihong’s territory, he hurried away last night and said that he would drink with Shaoshuai upon his return.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Oh, Bian Bufu! You have committed too many bad deeds! This revenge is well-deserved!”
The two passed through the city gate and came to the street inside the city. When the pedestrians saw Kou Zhong, none was not overjoyed, they shouted loudly ‘Long live’ [lit. ten thousand years].
The Shao Shuai Mansion’s inner hall.
Song Lu took a sip of hot tea, he said, “You don’t need to be nervous. It’s only because she is unclear of the situation that Yuzhi does not want to come to see you. Because after all, I can’t write such a confidential matter in the letter, in case something goes wrong, it could cause huge waves.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “After negotiating terms with Li Shimin, I have no choice but to go to Lingnan in person. Ay! Her misunderstanding toward me is too deep! Unexpectedly she did not even want to see me.”
Song Lu said, “Yuzhi’s temperament has always been like that. Shidao sent someone to send a letter, I was afraid something’s urgent, hence I tore it open and read it on your behalf.” He took out a letter from his pocket and handed it to Kou Zhong.
Upon receiving the letter, Kou Zhong put it into his pocket, and asked, “Is there any good news?”
“Aren’t you going to read it yourself?” Song Lu asked.
Kou Zhong said, “I’m a little afraid that the letter contains things that I don’t want to see. For example, he still insists on returning to Niang’s little valley to live in seclusion, or things like that.”
Song Lu cheerfully said, “You can rest assured, Shidao now is like a fish back in the water, he is indulging in pleasure and forgetting home and duty. If Dage knows about this, he will be very happy.”
And then he looked at him and said, “If Shidao is willing to actively succeed Dage’s Fazhu position, eliminating the worries that extend all the way across Dage’s mind, it will be of great help to us as for whether we can persuade him or not.”
Kou Zhong happily said, “This matter should be left to Ling Shao to handle, he has a better way of dealing with ErGe compared to me. How is the situation in the north?”
Song Lu said, “If it were before, I would say that the situation is great, but now I can only say that the turn of events is not too encouraging. After Liu Heita was defeated by Li Shimin, with the support of Gao Kaidao, Xu Yuanlang, and the Ba Wang Du Xing guarding Shanhai Pass, he reorganized the foot of his troops disposition, sweeping the earth to start over, even defeating the Tang Army. However, in order to strive for military merit, plus with Li Yuan’s nod of approval, Jiancheng led the army to meet Liu Heita’s attack.”
Kou Zhong said with a sneer, “How could Li Jiancheng be Liu Dage’s match?”
Song Lu said, “Xiao Zhong must not have the same insight as everybody else, who underestimate Li Jiancheng because he had no outstanding military merits. The fact is that in the past, when he attacked the Old Sui’s Guanzhong, Li Jiancheng put his military talents on display, he is not at all inferior to Li Shimin, unlike Yuanji, that kind of person. This time Li Yuan ordered Wei Zheng as Jiancheng’s Junshi [military adviser], this man’s strategic ability is outstanding. Li Mi was able to move unhindered for a period of time, it was mostly thanks to his advice and suggestions. With Wei Zheng’s assistance, Jiancheng is like a tiger that has grown wings. Also, Liu Heita’s original team, nearly all have been annihilated by Li Shimin, hence I am not too optimistic about Liu Heita.”
Kou Zhong’s countenance changed, he said, “Then what should we do? If Li Jiancheng triumphs over the opponent, Liu Dage will definitely lose his life.”
He could not help thinking of Ning Daoqi’s dreadful prophecy in reading Liu Heita’s lot through life, his whole spine was soaked in chill.
Song Lu said, “If the victor is your Liu Dage, naturally everything will be all right. However, if Li Jiancheng triumphs over the opponent, Li Shimin will fall into the most dangerous situation. Right now, the only thing we can do is to get Dage’s consent as soon as possible, and put the plan into action.”
This moment, a personal guard came to report that Xu Ziling was on his way to enter the city.
Immediately Kou Zhong’s distress was somewhat diminished, he promptly went out to meet him
Kou Zhong ran into Xu Ziling at the public square outside the Shao Shuai Mansion. He was talking with Chen Laomou and Ren Meimei, two persons. Seeing him coming, Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Get on the horse! We have a secret mission.”
Kou Zhong understood tacitly, he ordered his men to get him his steed.
By this time, the sky had just turned dark, there were torches everywhere around the Shao Shuai Mansion Square. A lot of Flying Cloud Guards elite troops were gathered in the Square for the night training, they were waiting for Kou Zhong’s instructions.
Knitting his brows, Chen Laomou said, “With the two of you gone, what do they do?”
Xu Ziling understood, he knew that Kou Zhong was actively training his men to cope with the fierce street fighting that most probably would happen in the City of Chang’an in the future.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Tonight, I will hand it over to Mou Gong and Mei Jie [older sister] to be in charge. Mou Gong can teach them secret skills such as opening locks and entering the house, while Mei Jie will teach them concealed weapons, knock-out incense, and other such skills, ha!”
Throwing him coquettish glances, Ren Meimei said, “Shaoshuai wants to train them to steal fragrance and pilfer jade [idiom: secret illicit sex]?”
Kou Zhong stepped on his horse, he laughed aloud and said, “More or less!”
Together Xu Ziling, they spurred their horses out of the Mansion, and out of the city. They traveled north along the Grand Canal for thirty some li, before starting to slow down.
Kou Zhong asked cheerfully, “Where is Li kid?”
Xu Ziling replied, “He might show up any moment, we are going to wait for him on the small hill ahead.”
Kou Zhong said, “You know that Liu Dage’s situation is far from good.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “I learned about his situation from Li Shimin. Li Jiancheng adopted Wei Zheng’s strategy to pacify and drive a wedge between the people and Liu Dage’s soldiers and generals, they strive to split apart and disintegrate various forces supporting Liu Dage. And Liu Dage has an even bigger problem of provisions, he had no choice but to withdraw to the north. On the other hand, Li Shentong and Li Shiji launched offensive against Xu Yuanlang, to prevent him from supporting Liu Dage. The situation is indeed very unfavorable for Liu Dage.”
The two came to the top of the hill and dismounted from their horses. The two banks of the canal were entirely covered by snow. The horses sprinted over such a long distance that they were extremely exhausted.
Kou Zhong said, “Liu Dage may be lacking in strength to repel Li Jiancheng, but he should have no problem to defend himself, right?”
Xu Ziling swept his gaze over the snowy plain on the opposite bank, he smiled bitterly and said, “I hope so. The snowy field is not suitable to march the army, if Liu Dage retreats to the north, he should be able to hold steadily for a while.”
Kou Zhong cast his gaze to the far northern extremity of the canal, which, more than fifty li away lay Chenliu, the Shao Shuai Army northernmost front line; he said, “Li Shimin should come by land!”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “No! He takes the waterway.”
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “How did he go through Chenliu, this barrier?”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “I told Zhandao, Fengyi and Xiao Jie about this matter. They are the men who follow you the earliest, such an important matter, how could we conceal it from them?”
Kou Zhong asked, “How did they react?”
Xu Ziling cheerfully said, “Naturally at first they were at a loss, but when I explained it clearly, I immediately obtained their unreserved support. In fact, in the Central Earth, whether those who work as soldiers or civilians and common people, all are saturated with war weariness and they are longing for peace. About the attack on Luoyang, nobody has a hundred-percent confidence even more. I assure Zhandao and the others that they can continue to be officials. Zhandao and Fengyi are very satisfied, only Xiao Jie has another request, that is, he hopes to be together with Xi’er.”
Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, he said, “Then I put down another load on my mind. In your talk with Li Shimin, did you get along well?”
Xu Ziling said, “The person Li Shimin trusts the most is not me, and of course it is not you, Kou Zhong Shaoshuai, but Feixuan. After detailed discussion with Feixuan, he is more resolute in his standpoint.”
The divine light in Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes flaring greatly, he spoke heavily, “In a moment I am going to test to what kind of degree his resolute standpoint is.”
“They are here!” Xu Ziling said.
A two-masted sailboat that externally looked like a merchant ship appeared at the bend of the river.
Inside the cabin, Li Shimin, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat facing each other on the round table in the middle of the hall. Behind Li Shimin stood Li Jing, Yuchi Jingde, Zhangsun Wuji, and Pang Yu, four capable trusted aides great generals.
Suddenly Li Shimin extended both hands, Kou Zhong grabbed them at once, both sides’ eyes met, neither was able to say half a sentence or a word, from the first time they met to this moment, the experience of gratitude and grudges, joy and hatred intertwined, it was like the reincarnation over hundreds and thousands of lifetimes, even though it was like an ingenious writing in the world, it was still difficult to describe thoroughly.
Li Jing and the others all showed touched expressions, evidently none was not moved emotionally by the two men’s conversion from enemies to friends.
Li Shimin finally spoke up, he said with difficulty, “Ay! Kou Xiong, please state your terms, I hope it’s not too difficult to accept.”
Kou Zhong let go of Li Shimin’s hand, the refined light in his pair of eyes flashing, he stared at Li Shimin without blinking at all, and said in heavy voice, “My conditions, Shimin Xiong should already have a list in your heart.”
Li Shimin spoke dejectedly, “I have more or less guessed it, Shaoshuai, please tell me straightforwardly.”
Kou Zhong said, “The first condition is that Qin Wang must make your determination clear to the common people of the world by your action that you will not hesitate to sacrifice everything, including your family and clan. Only this way will I, Kou Zhong feel the importance of supporting Shimin Xiong without reservation.”
Li Shimin made an effort to rouse his spirits; returning his penetrating gaze, he said, “Is there any leeway [orig. room to save the situation]?”
Kou Zhong resolutely shook his head and said, “Shimin Xiong should know better than me what ‘called a king if successful, called a bandit if defeated’ is. If you don’t know how to move the battlefield back to Chang’an, everything will come to no avail, the Tujue, still watching for an opportunity, will invade, the world will still be all split up and in pieces, and I can’t convince Song Que, or even myself - even more. The current situation is hardly ambiguous, not only Jiancheng, Yuanji, with complete devotion, want to put you to death, lingzun [your esteemed father] will not remember the father and son affection toward you either. This should be the time for you to come to your senses.”
Yuchi Jingde, Zhangsun Wuji, and others all revealed horrified expression, because they finally guessed the crux of the contention between Li Shimin and Kou Zhong.
Xu Ziling’s expression was as calm as still water, he did not utter a single word, only remembering in his heart Ba Fenghan’s remark about ‘only those who are ruthless enough can survive’.
Li Shimin’s expression repeatedly changed, he finally said, “Shaoshuai, please continue!”
Kou Zhong snorted coldly and said, “You are not benevolent, I don’t have to be righteous, since they don’t remember father and son and brothers’ affection, why should Shimin Xiong embrace excessive tendency to clemency [idiom: soft-hearted, (orig. the kindness of women)]? Lingzun Li Yuan must abdicate, Jiancheng, Yuanji will be killed without mercy. This is a prerequisite. Shimin Xiong, please think thrice.”
Although fully aware that Kou Zhong would put forward this condition, but hearing it straight from his mouth still made Li Shimin and the four generals under his command had their countenance changed at the same time.
Li Shimin looked at Xu Ziling as if asking for help.
Xu Ziling spoke sincerely, “Qin Wang must harden your heart and make up your mind. Chang’an City is your father and [elder] brother’s sphere of influence, plus there are the demonic school and the Tujue people involved. If we do not make any move, all resistance will definitely be crushed in one fell swoop using ten-thousand-jun-thunderbolt momentum. Under this kind of situation, there is no way to keep our hands off.”
Li Shimin hung his head low, deep in thought.
Kou Zhong said heavily, “Leaving aside personal grievances, one day Jiancheng, Yuanji remain, one day disaster still remains. Only by clearing away all these barriers will we become millions of people all of one mind [idiom] to face the allied armies from beyond the Great Wall about to invade, and bring the world back to unity. This is called placing righteousness before family [idiom: ready to punish one’s family if justice demands it]. Otherwise, just let them come to destroy you. Time is fleeting, Shimin Xiong must make a decision.”
Li Shimin suddenly raised his head to look up at Kou Zhong, he then looked around at the four generals before looking back at Kou Zhong without yielding at all. He spoke slowly, word by word, “Do I really have no other choice? I want to hear Jingde, you guys’ opinion.”
Yuchi Jingde’s entire body shook severely, ‘Bang!’ he dropped on both knees, hot tears gushing out, he said, “Qin Wang please understand, what Shaoshuai and Xu Ye said, every word is gems of wisdom [idiom: priceless advice].”
Li Jing and the others, three men, all went down on their knees
The atmosphere in the hall was extremely grave.
The sailboat cast the anchor at a bay in the river bend, the night sky was dropping the floating, flying snow powder again.
The crow and peacock made no sound, the water gently lapped the rocky beaches on both sides of the river, the world was waiting quietly for Li Shimin’s answer to determine the future destiny of the Central Earth.
Li Shimin exhaled a long, long breath and said, “Very well! I give you my promise.”
Kou Zhong slammed his palm on the tabletop, he sighed and said, “We all are good brothers again! His Niang’s!”
Li Shimin looked back and said, “You may rise!”
Following his order, Li Jing and others stood up.
Li Shimin recovered his spirit, he said, “What are the other conditions?”
Kou Zhong said, “The second condition will be very easy for Shimin Xiong. When Shimin Xiong ascends to the throne, naturally Xiaodi’s service is complete, I will withdraw, together with Ziling I will return to Jianghu as veteran big drifters, but if my subordinates want to be small government official, can Shimin Xiong let them satisfy their craving to be government official?”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “Of course there won’t be any problem with this.”
Kou Zhong was silent for a moment, as everyone watched attentively, and then he smiled wryly and said, “The third and the final condition, if you say it is difficult, it’s not difficult, if you say it’s easy, it’s not easy, but it relates to whether or not we can accomplish the objective, it is the most important key.”
Astonished, Xu Ziling said, “Unexpectedly there is such a condition?”
Li Shimin and others were greatly surprised, even Xu Ziling could not think of, what kind of condition was it?
Frowning, Li Shimin said, “Shaoshuai, please speak up.”
Kou Zhong cast a glance at Xu Ziling, he sighed and said, “To persuade Song Que, the Senior, any old affection won’t work; hard will not work, soft will not work either. The only way is to convince him with a powerful argument, how to govern the world and benefit the common people. Shimin Xiong is a more suitable candidate than me, as long as he, the Senior, believes that under Shimin Xiong’s rule, not only will the world rise to peace, the common people happy, but it will also reinvigorate Han unification. Put the facts in front of his eyes, let him decide, only then will we have a chance to obtain his nod.”
Shocked, Li Shimin said, “You want me to see him?”
Li Jing and others, none did not show horrified expression.
Zhangsun Wuji could not help saying, “Qin Wang …”
Li Shimin raised his hand to stop him from continuing, he spoke heavily, “No need to worry about my safety. If Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cannot be trusted, who else can I trust?”
Kou Zhong said, “Qin Wang agrees!”
Li Shimin smiled bitterly and said, “Do I have another choice?”
Li Jing spoke heavily, “How much confidence does Shaoshuai have that Song Fazhu will not harm Qin Wang?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Qin Wang and I are going to pay a visit to Song Fazhu, to show our respect to him. He once stated that he attaches most importance to the world, if that is really the case, he should accept us. ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que is an extraordinary person, he will understand what happened better than anyone and will make the most sensible judgments. It would be best for Qin Wang to come with me to Lingnan alone, and I, Kou Zhong, will use my head to guarantee Qin Wang‘s safety.”
Li Jing and others wanted to say something but then hesitated, they did not dare to speak.
Xu Ziling said, “Can Shimin Xiong get away?”
Tranquil and calm, Li Shimin said, “Just say I went to Kaifeng!”
Shaken, Pang Yu said, “Qin Wang …”
Li Shimin resolutely shouted to stop Pang Yu, he said, “I have decided. Everything will be done in accordance with Shaoshuai’s proposal.”
The smile appearing on the corners of Kou Zhong’s lips spread like ripples into a brilliant smile, he sighed in admiration and said, “Good Li Shimin, you are my, Kou Zhong’s biggest formidable opponent, but also a close friend who is willing to give your bare heart into my keeping [idiom]. From this moment on, Ziling and I will help you with all our strength to unify the world, to bring peace and happiness to the common people.”
A touching feeling of creating history grew in Xu Ziling’s heart, although the road ahead was still paved with difficulty on every step, nevertheless, it was brimming with bright prospect and hope, and they were working hand in hand towards this far-reaching goal, nothing would be able to thwart them anymore.